It was not only Denny Hamlin who profited from the last lap charge that produced the eventual winner of the 58th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday. Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Regan Smith, who had hovered among the top 15 runners during the second half of the event, charged forward on the outside lane to claim eighth place at the finish, the best effort among the lesser off teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
It was a strong end to a rough start of the race for Smith, who made contact with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Carl Edwards earlier in the race, attempting to avoid a spinning Chase Elliott, an incident that brought out the first caution of the day. Smith avoided damage in that incident, but then also had to deal with losing water from the hood overflow during the final ten laps as well, but persevered to earn the result.
“It was a good, smooth day for us.” said Smith after the race. “The car (was strong), other than the spin at the beginning, I don’t know what happened there. But I got on the brakes and it just spun out.”
When asked about the overflow spray late, it didn’t appear that Smith was concerned about a possible engine failure late.
“At Daytona, (you’re willing to) let it blow up if it’s going to.” admitted Smith. “The ECR engine shop builds a great motor. I put it through its paces today and there’s probably not any water in it.”
The New York native, who competed full-time last year for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, was making his eighth appearance in the “Great American Race” on Sunday. Smith started 27th in the No. 7 Golden Corral Buffet and Grill/Nikko Chevrolet and while never making a serious challenge for the top spot, was a part of the main pack throughout the distance. The effort is the third top ten result in this event for the 32-year old, after placing seventh at Daytona in 2011 for Furniture Row Racing and in 2013 for James Finch’s Phoenix Racing squad.
The veteran is no stranger to big efforts in the crown jewel classics on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, claiming his lone victory to date in the 2011 Southern 500 at the famed Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. After leaving the Sprint Cup Series full time fleet in 2012, Smith has garnered a decent resume over the past three seasons for JR Motorsports, finishing no worse than fourth in the final standings, whilst winning five times during that period, the last of which came at Dover’s Monster Mile.
Two other mid-major runners posted top twenty efforts on Sunday, a common trend in restrictor plate races, yet limited in this case as attrition was surprisingly low, due to the avoidance of a big wreck during the 200-lap distance. Despite representing two of the four non-chartered teams in the 40-car field, Leavine-Circle Sport Racing’s Michael McDowell claimed a 15th-place finish in the team’s secondary entry, while Wood Brothers’ first-year Cup driver Ryan Blaney came home in 19th. While the effort is a positive for McDowell’s one-off run, as he will share the No. 95 Chevrolet entry this season with Ty Dillon. Despite earning a top 20 finish, the result for Blaney could be viewed as a less than expected performance, after the Ohio-native had run in the top ten through most of the first three-quarters of the distance.
While some profited in this edition of the Daytona 500, others had a less than ideal outcome. Mechanical gremlins relegated BK Racing’s Robert Richardson, Jr. to a 38th place result, while the second caution flag of the day saw hard impacts suffered by both fellow BK runner Matt DiBenedetto and Front Row Motorsports’ Chris Buescher in turn two. Neither driver suffered injuries, but the entries were credited with 39th and 40th place finishes respectively.
Of course, the window of opportunity towards reaching the top 20 will tighten for these runners at the circuit heads for the very fast Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend, however the next chance to shine could come in May as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the Geico 500.